Why George Harrison Felt Stifled by Paul McCartney in the Late Beatles Years
After years of playing third fiddle to Paul McCartney and John Lennon, George Harrison took a big step forward on Revolver. On that classic album, the band recorded three songs by George, including the first track, “Taxman.”
If you preferred George to the other Beatles, you might have giddily awaited even better things on the next album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. But that didn’t happen. In fact, George only had one song on that record and otherwise barely contributed to some of its classic tracks.
Looking back to Sgt. Pepper’s, George remembered being greatly affected by his late 1966 trip to India. When he returned to what he described as “an assembly process” in the studio (rather than a band playing), he quickly lost interest in the album.
What’s more, he found himself constrained in an atmosphere he described as “stifling” to his creativity. George pointed the finger mostly at Paul’s approach to recording in that late Beatles era.
Paul wouldn’t listen to George’s ideas the way he had in the past.
When The Beatles stopped touring in 1966, it had a profound impact on them as a group. From that point on, they became a studio band. Instead of worrying how they might play a new song live, they went out of their way to get the best sound possible, knowing they’d never perform it on stage.
This new approach made it feel like work for George, and it got worse because Paul seemed to have the entire recording in his mind before coming to the studio. George said the days of Paul listening to his ideas ended around the Sgt. Pepper era (early ’67).
“Paul wasn’t open to anyone else’s suggestions,” George said in Anthology. “It was taken to the most ridiculous situations, where I’d open my guitar case and go to get my guitar out and he’d say, ‘No, no we’re not doing that yet. We’re gonna do a piano track with Ringo, and then we’ll do that later.’”
In the earlier years, George recalled a much more collaborative process. “There used to be situation where we’d go in, pick up our guitars, all learn the tune and chords and start talking about arrangements. [But] the freedom to be able to play as a musician was … curtailed, mainly by Paul.”
George’s frustrations built until he walked out on the band in 1969.
In the Let It Be documentary, there’s a famous scene from January ’69 of George and Paul have it out in front of the cameras. The problem stems from Paul asking George to change a small part he’s playing on one of his (Paul’s) songs. You can tell it’s not the first time they’ve had the conversation.
By the end, George tells Paul he’ll play whatever he wants him to play (or nothing at all). Not long after, George walked out on the band, offering a brisk “See you ’round the clubs” as his parting words.
It took 10 days before The Beatles got back into a studio together. But George didn’t wilt under the pressure. While Paul came to the Abbey Road sessions later that year with tracks like “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” George delivered his best work with “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun.”
Looking back, it seems the best thing George could have done was quit The Beatles for good. When he released All Things Must Pass in 1970, it was hailed as a masterpiece. Paul hadn’t played a single note on it.